Immigration activists and Eric Cantor agree on something: He’s responsible for blocking comprehensive immigration reform in the House.
The majority leader, who faces tea-party activist and Randolph-Macon College professor David Brat in a June 10 Virginia primary, has been beating back claims by his opponent that say he’s soft on issues ranging from Obamacare to immigration. Last week, Cantor’s campaign sent out a mailer, which declares Cantor is “stopping the Obama-Reid plan to give illegal aliens amnesty.”
It’s the sort of harsh rhetoric that appears to be at odds, at least in tone, with Cantor’s recent statements on immigration. Just as Cantor’s campaign was sending tens of thousands of these mailers in his Virginia district, he was clarifying to multiple outlets that he supports the policy of a bill that would grant legal status to undocumented immigrants who enlist in the military.
House Republican leadership prevented that bill, called the Enlist Act, from reaching the House floor as part of the debate on a must-pass defense bill. The National Defense Authorization Act “is not the appropriate place for this, but I support the principle,” Cantor said.
Cantor’s campaign insists that there is no inconsistency with his position on immigration reform and the mailer that decries granting “six million illegal aliens citizenship.” The mailer utilizes language that national Republicans have been trying to shy away from, namely referring to undocumented immigrants as “illegal aliens.” (It also calls the Senate bill, which passed with the help of 14 Republicans, the “Reid-Obama” plan.)
“In the real world, we all know that the system is broken and what Eric has said is he is not for these blanket amnesty plans,” said Cantor campaign spokesman Ray Allen. “He has also said we should be able to reach a consensus on some of these other issues: border security, e-Verify, and what we do about children. That’s called leadership.”
But supporting the principle of the Enlist Act while also blocking it isn’t enough for immigration advocates, who have been targeting Cantor as a main obstacle to comprehensive reform.
Over Memorial Day weekend, immigration activists stormed his D.C.-area condo, where they chanted about “the one man blocking immigration reform.” And on Wednesday, Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a pro-reform leader in the House, spoke at the Virginia Capitol in Richmond about Cantor’s role in blocking reform.
Do such attacks from the left help highlight the position Cantor’s campaign is trying to make? Allen wouldn’t comment on that, but he did say, “At least they have a legitimate beef because Eric has stopped comprehensive reform, and he is standing against the immigration [bill], so the criticism from the left makes a certain amount of sense.”
House Republican leadership has insisted the House will take a “step-by-step” approach to reform, but haven’t committed to a timetable. They also emphasize that the main obstacle to reform is the lack of trust Republicans have in the Obama administration to enforce new immigration laws.
Still, Brat’s attacks on Cantor’s immigration record were enough to spur his campaign to clarify the record, as they put it. Meanwhile, it’s that same record that has reform advocates so upset.